President of Rwanda makes business pitch a part of NBA All-Star visit to Queen City

Paul Kagame spent the past two decades helping Rwanda overcome a 1994 genocide against the minority ethnic Tutsis that left an estimated 800,000 to 1 million people dead.

Kagame, the president of Rwanda, has embraced social media, eased the cost and hassle for international businesses to invest in the African nation, and looked to South Korea as a model for lifting his nation’s fortunes.

According to his critics, Kagame is yet another African strongman draped in more public relations-friendly clothing who forcefully and violently silences his political opponents.

His sharpest critics include Paul Rusesabagina, of “Hotel Rwanda” fame, who lives in the United States and who told The Washington Post in 2016 he was living outside his home country because he feared for his safety.

What does any of this have to do with Charlotte? Glad you asked. Kagame spent the weekend here, attending the NBA All-Star Game — Rwanda is likely to have one of 12 teams in the newly announced startup league in 2020 that includes significant backing from the NBA — before making a pitch to local business leaders on Monday at The Ballantyne Resort. (NBA Commissioner Adam Silver visited Kagame last year in Rwanda.)

Kagame came at the invitation and urging of Andy Agaba, a native of Uganda and Harvard graduate who runs a nonprofit here that, according to its website, is a Christian economic development organization.

During an appearance before business leaders hosted by Agaba and Movement Mortgage CEO Casey Crawford, Kagame received glowing compliments from Crawford and a handful of people in the audience who participated in a brief Q-and-A session afterwards. The American government has taken the same view for much of Kagame’s presidency, which began in 2000.

A BBC story in 2017 included one analyst describing Kagame as “one of America’s friendly tyrants” while Africa’s lead representative at Reporters Without Borders cited Rwanda’s appalling track record with journalists and freedom of the press. In the latter case, more than 50 reporters have been killed, disappeared and or fled because of oppressive tactics by Kagame’s government during his time in office.

Emmanuel Hategeka, deputy CEO of the Rwanda Development Board, spoke to me after Kagame made his remarks. Like the Rwandan president, Hategeka reeled off several favorable statistics demonstrating a more open and growing economy.

Among the notable numbers: women account for two-thirds of the nation’s parliament, half of Kagame’s cabinet and 44% of the judicial system. Both men mentioned the World Bank ranking Rwanda 29th globally in its latest Doing Business index, up from 150th in 2004.

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